THE BANQUO LEGACY by Andy Lane & Justin Richards
Justin Richards has a particular and definite approach to editing the Doctor Who line. To paraphrase him slightly (although not by much), he believes that a good plot is by far the most important factor and can carry crap writing. We think this stance is utterly wrongheaded. The Banquo Legacy, a book in which he had a hand, is an object lesson in why. Oi, Richards, no!
It's not as if Banquo Legacy doesn't have potential. We love the idea of the epistolatory style: the first person statements from two of the participants are a novel and refreshing way to look at events. And the creepiness of the manor is if a bit of a cliche evoked very well.
The problem is, though, that the novel reads like a first draft. It's wrong in all sorts of ways. At the most basic level, it's sprinkled with annoying errors: confidant for confident, canvass for canvas, punctuation either misplaced or AWOL, and anachronisms like "back to square one". These are like speed bumps, breaking the reader's involvement in the book. Can't BBC Books run to a copyeditor?
If this was all that were wrong, there wouldn't be much to complain about. But the book has far more serious problems. Characterisation, for a start, is horribly underdeveloped. While the odd character, like Baker or Simpson, stands out, the rest are interchangeable ciphers. When a couple of them die partway through, we were utterly unmoved as we couldn't even remember which ones they were. Even more unforgivably in an epistolatory novel, no effort at all has been made to distinguish the writing styles of the two narrators from each other.
The TARDIS team, too, are woeful. The style of the book should be an excellent opportunity to give us a whole new insight into Fitz and Compassion, since we get to look at them entirely from the outside. Compassion in particular should be especially interesting here since she's sharing a body with someone else. But this opportunity is utterly thrown away. Characterisation of Compassion comes down to having her say "obviously" whenever her personality is in charge. Gack. As for Fitz, well, he's there and it's him, but he's so underused that he might as well not be. And why does he keep yapping on about his own time being 100 years in the future when he comes from the sixties?
But what about the Doctor? Not much, actually. He appears from time to time and when he does behaves like himself, but this is by no means a Doctor Who novel. Apart from the Time Lord frills around the edge, you could surgically remove the Doctor from this book and not even notice he was gone. This is a serious flaw and, considering editorial policy that insists that the Doctor be the centre of the novel, pretty bloody ironic to boot.
And the plot? The bit that according to Justin Richards justifies all ills? Sadly, this too is weakened by what looks like either hasty writing, underediting or both. There's piles o' stuff in here which goes nowhere, like the whole direction of the 1798 bit and the mysterious behaviour of Beryl. The charitably inclined might describe these as cleverly planted red herrings or important atmosphere, but we think that in either case they should have been better integrated.
Then there's the mystery aspect. The book is essentially a classic murder mystery with a bunch of horror tacked on the end, and as such getting the mystery right's vital. With regard to the puzzle of who's the Time Lord agent, we don't want to give away too much here, but if you have even a passing familiarity with the phrase "bigger on the inside than the outside", you're going to spot the culprit pretty early on in the piece. And as for whodunnit, again without too many spoilers we were disappointed that the authors borrowed a device from a famous Golden Age mystery novel. Nothing too challenging there, then.
For the last third of the novel, mystery is abandoned for horror. While the mystery manages to be reasonably engaging despite its flaws, the horror is protracted and dull. Our innocent heroes are menaced by the evil villain. Then they're menaced a bit more. And a bit more. And... It's like watching the last thirty seconds of an episode stretched over eighty pages. This section includes what presumably was supposed to be a massively surprising plot twist, but since we'd thought that's how things were all the way along, we remained underwhelmed.
There are the bones of a really good book in here. The epistolatory style, the Time Lord agent stuff, the intriguing nature of Compassion - it might have been brilliant. As it is, it's a disappointment. The majority of the book's readable - the mystery section is unfolded interestingly enough to hold the attention - but it could have been so much more.